In-Depth Learning: One School's Initiatives to Foster Integration of Ethics, Values, and the Human Dimensions of Medicine

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Today's medical student curriculum is a lock-step experience that provides a broad survey of medicine with little opportunity to pursue fully integrated, in-depth learning. To teach students about the human dimensions of health care, many schools simply have added courses that survey general areas such as ethics, values, and patient–doctor relationships. However, a superficial, broad-brush approach does not offer students sufficient opportunity to engage with these topics in substantive and meaningful ways.The authors propose that a theme-based, individualized, in-depth learning experience (in which students pursue a focused project comprehensively and in detail)—one that is an integral part of the curriculum—helps students learn to blend values and ethics with medicine in a way that cannot occur during rapid-paced topical survey courses. Furthermore, it is in the depths of a learning experience that one comes face to face with the realities of uncertainty: the realization that unanswerable questions outnumber answerable ones; the awareness of the difficulty in accumulating sufficient evidence to answer a question that is, in fact, answerable; the recognition that many patients' problems transcend available evidence and must be addressed by the art of medicine; the realization that a patient can have a condition that one cannot diagnose and that may even get better for reasons that one cannot understand.The authors describe three initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, two of which have been offered for more than 10 years, that illustrate the value of in-depth learning experiences. These in-depth experiences blend situated learning, reflective exercises, faculty mentoring, critical reading of literature, and constructive feedback in a prescribed but individualized curriculum.

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